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Published: June 11th 2015
Alright, well I’ve been in Uganda for over a month now so I figure it’s time I actually spend some time writing about the work I’ve been doing - I swear I have been working here! Because I don’t like to spend my downtime blogging, I will continue to be behind on entries the entire time I’m here. I intended this to be a quick run-down of how the first month has gone, but like all my entries it’ll probably be a long one.
Like I said in my first blog entry, I was accepted for an internship with Vets without Borders to work on their Goat Pass-On Project. In a nutshell, the Goat Pass-On Project strives to help the most impoverished people of rural Uganda - mainly widows and orphans - and we help them to start mini businesses by raising livestock. Through fundraising, us interns will raise money to purchase goats which we will “loan” to beneficiaries in hopes that they can keep them alive (sometimes much harder than you would think) and have them reproduce. To pay back their loan, they must give one kid (baby goat) to another beneficiary in their community and also
Myself, Laura and Ester
Ester is a vet from Spain, who's working in Northern Uganda doing research on African Swine Fever. Laura and I met her at Green Valley, in Entebbe and spent the day hanging out and had a great supper on the beach of Lake Victoria.
sell another kid and put the money they earned into a revolving fund. The revolving fund is essentially a bank that all the members in the community are required to pay into and can borrow money from. We also organize vaccine clinics, training days and a lot more that will come later in the summer. That’s the very bare basics of the project, but more details will come out as I go along.
Us interns work with 17 different rural communities in the Insingiro district surrounding Mbarara. The community’s groups were established by one of our partner organizations, Foundation for Aids Orphaned Children (aka FAOC), who we have worked closely with in the past. Unfortunately, FAOC has sort of dissolved over the last year due to a drop in funding, and at the moment they have no current projects. We will still be working with some of the staff this summer, which will provide them with a wage for the next couple months, but otherwise us interns will be guiding the project largely on our own this time.
Now back to where I left off after my first blog. So I was hanging around
Sometimes it's important to take time to relax
So Laura, Ester and I went to the pool for an afternoon
in Entebbe, doing nothing but lying in the sun, doing yoga, and drinking entirely too much at O’s (a local club), with Frank and other travellers as I waited for Laura and Brittany to arrive. Thanks to some sort of African miracle, almost a week after I arrived, and the day after I was told my luggage was lost forever, Ethiopian Air finally found my bag and it was returned to me in one piece! Eventually, Laura and Brittany arrived and we would make our way to Mbarara to get started on the goat project and Lena would join us a few days later.
The first few days in Mbarara consisted largely of reconnecting with the FAOC staff, particularly Vivian, Joseph and Francis, and they helped us begin organizing our summer. Vivian welcomed us back with a delicious feast of traditional food, and Joseph surprised us with homemade lunch on our first day in the field. I really missed working with these two last summer and it was so nice to receive such a warm welcome back. Other than a few formalities and getting settled in we have been going to each community and speaking with their
chairperson and/or paravets. We wanted to let everyone know that we would be back for the summer and would be attending their next community meeting to assess any problems they’ve had over the last year, see how their goats are doing, and talk about upcoming vaccine clinics we’re planning.
As of now, we have spoken with all of the communities and are slowly making our way through each community meeting. “Slowly” is a HUGE understatement as Ugandans follow what is called “African Time” and seconds turn to minutes and minutes to hours. Each meeting can take anywhere from one hour to three or even four if we factor in the time it takes for members to show up or for them to reach our section on their agenda. Patience is a virtue, patience is a virtue. One thing a lot of people probably don’t realize about me is that I absolutely hate public speaking and I get really nervous talking in front of groups. However, Ugandan meetings are the one place I seem to feel sort of comfortable, minus any interactions I have to have speaking in the local language. My false sense of comfort is due
to the fact that almost no one can understand a damn word that comes out of my mouth, which I’m kinda ok with when I fumble through my presentation. We have great translators who explain everything, and then some, to the groups.
Anyways, like I expected, a lot of the problems occurring are the exact same ones as last year (and according to Laura, are the same as every year prior). Thefts tend to be high in some communities, dog bites are still too frequent - both of which can be mostly avoided if the beneficiaries keep their goats in pens instead of letting them free graze. Two other major problems are goats dying from “sudden death” (aka clostridium) and having abortions due to brucella infection. Both of these are avoidable diseases, as they are two things we vaccinate for. Convincing communities to keep goats in pens and vaccinate them is a lot harder than one would think, as we have to change their long standing perspective on raising goats, but for those beneficiaries that listen to what we teach, the benefits are incredible. Some beneficiaries that have gone on to be community leaders and taken on
political roles, are able to send their children to school and now live a much more comfortable life in good homes. My favourite part of each meeting is hearing the success stories of the members and it thrills me to see how far so many people have come. Saphina is one of these success stories and she invited us into her home for tea made with fresh milk (boiled milk is as safe as pasteurized, right?) from one of the new cows she’s been able to purchase over the last year. She thanked us again and again and told us how the goat project drastically improved her life; she has a beautiful fenced-in home, lots of livestock, and a great job. Knowing I can have a small role in helping others achieve this is what drove me to come back this year.
We’ve also started pulling blood from goats in the communities to test them for brucellosis, a highly contagious bacterial infection that causes abortion in goats, and can also be transmitted to humans causing a serious and potentially debilitating illness. In an astoundingly high tech fashion*, following the most strict biosecurity protocols**, our laundry room now
doubles as a lab for running the brucella tests. Depending on the day we could have well over 100 tests to run, and because blood samples should be run the same day as testing, and we have only until the sun goes down to run tests (there is no light bulb in the laundry/lab hybrid room - although headlamps work in a pinch) so we try to speed through the tests. Unfortunately, Brittany learned the hard way that speed is not always ideal, as she stabbed herself with the needle tip, drawing blood… She rightfully panicked. Well, odds are that the sample will be negative. And as fate would have it, it is the only positive in the batch. And it’s strongly positive, at that. Well, this is less than okay. The rest of us stay calm as she has a meltdown inside. After several phone calls to doctors, both here in Uganda and back in Canada, Brit is now on prophylactic antibiotics, and we’re all keeping our fingers crossed that no symptoms appear over the next few weeks (or months).
* high tech = a floor tile
** sometimes we wear gloves
Goats haven’t been the only animals we have been working with so far. Our paravet Joseph has acquired two guard dogs since last year, so we offered to neuter the male to keep him from straying from home in search of some action. After a bit of a hunt through town we managed to scrape together enough instruments (more or less) and medications (close enough to what we need) to perform a crude neuter on the dog. I must say, this was probably the most interesting “grocery list” I’ve ever been sent to the market for, and it’ll likely be the last time I can walk into a pharmacy and ask for as much ketamine, diazepam, and morphine as I want with no questions asked. I guess there is no need to have substances controlled if no one can afford to abuse them. The day we performed the surgery, Joseph had a neighbour who also wanted to have his dog neutered so as a team we completed two surgeries, out in the open air, on the Ugandan ground, with swarms of flies and a few children buzzing around. Not quite the sterile technique we learned in school but hey, this
The shoe bill stork
The most terrifying bird I've ever seen
is Africa! Doing these surgeries gave me a great appreciation for all the surgical equipment and supplies we have available back home, and the lack of monitoring equipment definitely tests your skills. As Laura says, “field surgery makes good surgeons!” And I’m pleased to say that both dogs are still alive and well.
Laura and I also took a morning to visit Nyamuyanja Primary School to deliver soccer balls, skipping rope, toys and educational materials she brought from home. I visited this school last year and it was one of the most memorable days on the project; as soon as the children hear the vehicle driving up they all run out of the classroom and swarm you! Within seconds of stepping outside I had several children holding on to each arm and leg and screaming with excitement to touch a muzungu
! My tattoos make me especially interesting to them as they all run up and touch them, quickly turning to their hands to see if the colours rubbed off on them. These kids are a blast and I can’t wait to come visit again.
And as I’m sure at least some of you have
been wondering, aside from a needle stabbing, a couple sunburns, heat stroke, esophagitis, and varying degrees of GI issues, we are all in more or less good health and doing reasonably well! We’ve all decided to name our internal parasite or bacteria or Alien creature that is colonizing our insides, and compared to the others (knock on wood), “Doug” has been relatively kind to me. All of us interns have also taken turns learning how to drive on the left side of the road - a task that is made much more difficult when there are people constantly swerving in and out of traffic all around you, and what appears to be no traffic laws whatsoever. Driving around the city during rush hour, which is all the time, is a good way to work up a decent back sweat. But to date, no accidents yet! Fortunately, at least driving around the rural communities is pretty easy - go slow, avoid the potholes and ruts, and do your best to understand the directions.
“Joseph, do I go left or right?”
“No, which way should I go?”
“This way,” he says from the
backseat, pointing in some direction I can’t see.
Alright, right it is.
Anyways, this is long again and only touches on some of the many stories that I should be telling, but to avoid writing a novel that’s all you get for now!
PS there are a TON of pictures in this entry because I’m too indecisive to chose favourites, so make sure to scroll down to see them all. Plus, they fill in a lot of the gaps my writing leaves out. We have done so much so far! We all have been sharing photos so there is a mix of everyone’s in here. Take care everyone!
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